Undoubtedly, memories of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 in Beijing conjure up a variety of mixed emotions for the expat community. Many will recall quarantines, countless online meetings and the struggle to recreate a sense of community.
Many have called it quits, and those lucky enough to still be in the city have had to widen their social networks in search of new friends and support groups.
Beijing’s InterNations group does just that as it seeks to bring people together and continues to fill an irreplaceable void for expats.
As an organization that helps expats across the globe to network, the group can be a lifeline for those looking to make new friends and acquaintances.
That’s recently sat down with Gabriela Filipovici, a Romanian national who has been involved with InterNations Beijing for five and a half years and is one of the chapter ambassadors.
Beijing InterNations Ambassador Gabriela Filipovici
Having married a Beijing local and settled in the capital for the past 27 years, Filipovici is no stranger to the challenges that many expats encounter. Prior to her involvement with InterNations, she served as a key liaison between Romanian clients and her Chinese husband’s Traditional Chinese Medicine practice. She noted that even for foreigners settled in China, there is still a need to create a sense of community for expats.
“I’ve always been a ‘people person,’ and I love the concept of bringing people together and creating a home away from home. It’s useful for expats to meet, connect and get trustworthy information about life in the city. You meet an interesting mix of people from different backgrounds and careers. InterNations really provides people with an opportunity to relax and have fun,” remarked Filipovici.
Monthly Activities and Online Support
Filipovici explained that she organizes and hosts two InterNations events per month. Many are typically held on Fridays, giving participants an opportunity to unwind after the long work week. Examples of events include those for newcomers to Beijing as well as more intimate interest-based events including book club discussions, wine appreciation, mindfulness events and others.
Navigating the Pandemic in Beijing
Although small intimate discussions were held online during the height of the pandemic in 2020, InterNations’ offline events didn’t resume until July in the same year and have continued since then. Prior to COVID-19, InterNations events would attract around 110 to 130 people per event. With many foreigners still stuck outside of China, attendance is lower but can still hit around 80 to 100 people per event.
A teacher at a Beijing-based international school, who requested that we do not use her full name, remarked that COVID-19 did impact her attendance, but in spite of the virus she spoke highly of the events as a whole:
“I used to attend InterNations often, at least once a month. I enjoyed the official Friday evening events and I loved the small group events. I wanted to meet people from other countries. It’s a safe space to meet others and visit nice venues.”
Most events still have a wide variety of nationalities represented and anti-pandemic measures have been maintained such as checking temperatures and requiring participants to display a green health code.
As far as Filipovici is concerned, InterNations still needs to fulfill its mission of helping people to connect.
“During the pandemic, it has been a difficult period and continues to be especially so for those who have been unable to return home to visit family and friends. So, we continue to host events for these people in 5-star hotels, rooftop bars and lounges, because creating the right atmosphere is important in encouraging people to attend, to relax and to get a chance to know each other.”
An InterNations event at Starry Bar
She fondly recounted the story of how a Romanian member of InterNations met her Ecuadorian husband at an event. Filipovici is now the godmother of their first child.
She also shared a more recent story in which InterNations was able to get sponsorship for a member to return home and visit her family.
For Filipovici, these heartwarming stories illustrate the power of the InterNations community and remind her of the important role she plays in offering to support to foreigners in Beijing.
Interested in learning more? Visit the InterNations Beijing website to keep up to date with the latest events.
[Cover image via Unsplash. In-text images via InterNations/Gabriella Filipovici]